An investment banking internship on Wall Street with a bulge bracket bank is a dream opportunity for many MBA students.
What does it take to get an I-banking internship? How does the process work? What are the challenges to be aware of?
Navdeep Garg, an MBA student at the Duke Fuqua MBA program, offers valuable insights to help you navigate your own journey to an exciting Wall Street career.
How I got an investment banking internship on Wall Street
by Navdeep Garg
Prior to Fuqua, I was working as Assistant Vice President at Bank of America in Hong Kong. I was part of a middle-office risk management team, where I used to negotiate collateral disputes (for trading activities) with external Investment Banks such as Nomura, JP Morgan, etc.
Along with this, I was handling automation and innovation, working on emerging technologies such as big data and machine learning to implement innovative solutions to enhance operational efficiencies.
It was an exciting space to be in. Over the years, the way banks operate has changed dramatically. Currently, the finance industry is going through disruption with upcoming fintech start-ups providing innovative solutions to day-to-day banking activities.
Incumbent firms such as Bank of America not only rely on in-house applications/tools but are rapidly collaborating with fintech start-ups. My role placed me in a sweet spot to not only innovate within the firm but keep a close eye on these fintech firms and utilize their solutions wherever possible.
As a result, I developed a keen interest in the fintech space but somehow was unsure about the path to follow to achieve my long-term goal. Closely following the current trend of record acquisition deals in the area steered my interest in Investment Banking.
These deals not only reflect a positive outlook regarding fintech as a mature market but also paves a path for creating more innovative solutions by leveraging synergies among the firms.
I envisioned that as an investment banking associate, I would be better able to advise my clients and contribute to this dynamic space. Hence, I decided to go for an MBA with a short-term goal to transition into Investment Banking.
My long MBA application journey
Like any other Indian engineering male applicant, I had my concern about the over-represented applicant pool.
Talking about my profile on a high level, I had a 9.2 GPA in undergrad, 750 GMAT score, CFA Charter, close to 7 years of experience in financial services with two years of international experience, along with decent extra-curricular activities.
It might seem like an outstanding profile when you compare the class profiles mentioned in every b-school’s website.
But the reality is that there are many more international/Indian applicants who have the same pedigree and have done something similar in pre-MBA career, if not more.
Ultimately, it boils down to how the application looks holistically, which includes, in addition to the above, your short-term and long-term goals, LORs, and “fit” for the school. I can’t emphasize enough how important “fit” is for a school.
My GMAT score was 750, and I applied to around 6 schools. I considered specific points while shortlisting my schools. Obviously, all the points do not apply to each one of them.
- Location – I only applied to U.S. B-schools that too specifically in college-towns, i.e., not in metropolitan cities. I am a firm believer that more than what you end up learning in classes, a 2-year MBA program is more about networking and making connections with your classmates. College-towns provide a close-knit community experience. So you not only get to study together in classes but also hang-out more often with them and be a part of each other’s journey.
- Team focused environment– Again, a critical factor in consideration for me was a program with more emphasis on team-based activities rather than an individual focused program. This is more of a personal preference given I thrive well in a team environment. Strategically speaking, too, Investment Banking and, in fact, any post-MBA job is more focused on teamwork. I believe that an MBA should better mimic how your post-MBA job would look like.
- Personal Reason – I got married in 2017, and it was a family decision to apply for higher studies. My wife was targeting a Masters’s program (with a focus on Business Analytics or Information Systems) at the same time. So we targeted a list of B-schools that offered both an MBA and had a reputed Masters Program.
- MBA Rankings – I targeted only the top 20 B-schools.
I got selected at four schools (3 in the US and 1 in Asia*) – all with scholarship.
- UT Austin – $50k
- UNC Kenan Flagler – $100k
- Fuqua School of Business, Duke University – $110k
- *I applied to MIT – got rejected, but they forwarded my application to their ally school in Asia – Asian School of Business, Malaysia. I got an offer with a 100% scholarship – All expenses covered.
I was unsuccessful in all the B-schools that I applied to during Round 1. I applied to all three schools mentioned above in Round 2 and thus was really amazed to get admit offer from all of them.
Getting this amount of scholarship at Fuqua pleasantly surprised me. What was more important for me was that Fuqua ticked all three criteria I had in my mind while selecting a B-school.
And most importantly, both my wife and I got an admit at Fuqua (She received the call a week before me for Masters in Quantitative Management Program). It was really a top-of-the-world feeling to see my MBA dream materialize.
Why it took longer than expected
I was a reapplicant this time. I applied for fall 2017 and was able to get an admit from CMU Tepper at that time. I was really keen to take that offer, but due to both professional and personal reasons, I had to reject it.
On the professional front, I had an opportunity to move to HK. It was an appealing opportunity since I always wanted to get more fintech exposure, and HK is, arguably, the fintech capital of Asia.
On the personal front, I got married in early 2017, and we as a family were not ready to take this leap with no plans in mind for my wife.
Weighing both the options, I decided to choose the HK option, explore the fintech scene a little more, and then decide on my next step.
I did not apply to any B-schools in 2018 since I believed eight months (I moved to HK in August 2017) is relatively a short duration to do justice to this opportunity.
Moreover, my HK experience was immensely helpful in securing my admit on two fronts.
- The first and apparent reason being that international experience plays a vital role in standing out.
- Second, when I applied in 2016, I was not clear why I wanted to do an MBA. Hong Kong experience gave me enough data points to get my story right.
Fuqua MBA class experience
As any other international student moving to a new country, I was concerned about arranging for loans, getting the visa process done, finding a place to live, etc.
Thankfully, 2nd year Fuqua Students from India organized a 1-hour long session with all of us (and recorded it as well) where we were able to ask our queries. It smoothened our transition to a great extent.
I also faced certain challenges in transitioning back to student life but quickly found my close set of friends in the Fuqua community, making learning fun.
So far, I have cherished each and every day I have been able to spend at Fuqua, and I feel humbled to be a part of Fuqua Community. The admission team at Fuqua has done a fantastic job of bringing together such a diverse and talented set of individuals.
Their background varies from being a former Olympic athlete to entrepreneurs to working with the likes of Bill Gates and Donald Trump.
As mentioned on the Fuqua website, 37% of my classmates are international. Owing to this, we have an enriching class experience.
Whenever we have a class discussion, more often than not, one of my classmates can relate to the case at hand owing to their prior experience and provide valuable insights into the process. This makes the class exciting and entertaining.
It is such an encouraging and absorbing culture at Fuqua that since Day 1, I felt at home. All of my classmates, faculty members, and staff are incredibly accessible.
For me, specifically, being an Indian knowing Spanish and having worked in an American Bank in Hong Kong played to my advantage. It really helped me appreciate each culture and had a lot of common grounds to talk to both international and domestic students.
I can not emphasize it enough. Far more than the rankings, the Duke brand, and the excellent post-MBA opportunities, what really makes Fuqua stand out for me is the people here. I could not have asked to be surrounded by a more talented group of people who are more than willing to help you out.
For instance, when we were preparing for our recruitment process, everyone was helping each other in getting up to the mark. There was never any competition of any sort among each other. The main goal was to get the best jobs possible out there for everyone.
Fuqua has one of the most renowned faculty, and Professors not only have extensive experience but also are easily accessible. From an academic perspective, I had a fantastic experience taking Accounting course in my fall.
Our Professor, Rahul Vashishtha, made Accounting what it is not supposed to be – Interesting. I feel so lucky to have opted in for this course (it is a core course, but I could have opted out of it, given my background).
Another top-rated course among students here is Corporate Finance, taught by none other than legendary John Graham himself.
My recommendation for any incoming student is – set your expectations right and come with a goal in mind. The entire Fuqua community would help you achieve it.
Also, make sure you are available for others. It is a close-knit, student-driven community,and if you’re helpful, people will amplify that help.
Getting into Wall Street after MBA
Getting into B-school seemed like a cakewalk as compared to getting an IB offer. As is evident, the way recruitment works in the US is entirely different from the way it works back in India. Here, you need to “network” with your employer for a prolonged period, even to score an interview.
I genuinely feel that it makes sense, given that you end up spending more than 13-14 hours a day with your team in the job. All these networking events provide them (and you) a chance to know each other before committing to anything. Yes, it is indeed a dating process!
In my view, the recruitment process kicks off well before you are on campus, i.e., during the application process, when you introspect/research on what your long-term and short-term goals are.
Officially, it kicks off in late August/early September when 2nd year is back on campus and organizes initial info-sessions educating us about various career paths available. At Fuqua, close to 50 students were recruiting for IB.
During the month of September and October, bankers (mostly Fuqua Alumni) from most of the Bulge Bracket banks and a handful of Boutique Banks start coming on the campus for employer presentation. Networking events follow each presentation.
In October, we visit these banks in New York for a one-week long event,”Week on Wall Street,”going through similar networking events. Post that, we need to schedule informational meetings with different firms – which means traveling to New York every week.
Apart from managing the expense of round-trip flights, you also need to manage your class workload, which includes attending alternative classes or watching recorded videos.
At the same time, one needs to be wary that a few banks (not all) ask for your grades so you can’t take those lightly. And it can get really hectic.
There were two instances when I had to take 5:30 am flight to New York, return to Durham on the same day by 5 pm to attend campus recruitment events, and again take 5:30 am flight the next morning.
During the whole process, all the firms have their invite-only events, shortlisting candidates at each step. For international students, it is even trickier as not all IB firms sponsor visas. Even for firms open to hiring internationals, visa availability depends on the group you are recruiting for.
It is after this grueling process that you can expect to get interview invites. I was able to secure interview invites from Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Royal Bank of Canada, and Houlihan Lokey.
It was a decent number of interviews, being an international student. I was confident that securing four interview rounds at these firms should materialize to getting at least one offer if historical data is any representation.
Talking about preparation,I spent my full winter break prepping for my interviews and was really satisfied with it. I did an ample number of mock interviews with my career services, 2nd year as well as 1st year and received positive feedback throughout.
Coming out of my interviews as well, I felt really confident, and apart from minor mistakes (being human), interviews went really smoothly. But unfortunately, I got a REJECTION from all of these firms.
Obviously, after getting so many rejections, I was very dejected. I tried all that I could, but it did not work out. Had I focused solely on on-campus IB recruitment, I’d be doomed!!!
But I knew before committing to IB that given the geopolitical circumstances, I need to put in extra effort if I wanted it to work.
Hence, along with judiciously following on-campus IB recruitment, I also kept on applying to other banks off-campus as well as to consulting and tech firms on campus.
And this effort paid off. Along with four on-campus IB interviews, I was able to secure interviews at Amazon, Capital One, AT&T, and McKinsey.
Also, I heard back from one of the top BB banks – Deutsche Bank. I had given up all the hopes for IB, but this gave me one last hope.
By the end of January, I was able to get an offer from Amazon, which relieved a lot of pressure.
In the first week of February, I interviewed at DB, and FINALLY, I got a call I was waiting for – “Congratulations, you’re selected!!!”
My cherished dream of working on Wall Street was finally coming true. It was such a fantastic feeling.
As an additional note, between the time I got a rejection from every bank till I got DB (roughly a month), you won’t believe how many Fuqua grads were there helping me out to connect me to various employers.
I could not have been able to pull it off without the support system that we have at Fuqua – be it FY/SY, Career Service, Professors, etc.
My internship starts in June. It’s a 10-week program, based in New York. Currently, it is an internship offer. How it goes will decide my full-time offer.
I have had numerous information calls with investment bankers at DB, and if anything, H1B should not be my main concern for now. Moreover, my STEM degree should indeed be helpful to get an OPT extension.
Some help along the way
My interaction with Sameer Kamat started way back in 2016 when I first thought of applying to B-schools. As any prospective student, I had multiple queries regarding the process and used to check MBA Crystal Ball blogs quite frequently.
Even when I was deciding between moving to HK vs. choosing CMU Tepper, I had a frank conversation with Sameer,and it helped me validate my decision to opt for HK.
Also, during this time, I read his “Beyond the MBA Hype” book. My key takeaway was that one should not go for an MBA just for the sake of doing it.
In 2016, I admit I was not really clear why I needed an MBA. But over the next two years, I really identified the actual need for an MBA in my career, and things fell in place.
I was pleasantly surprised when Sameer checked in on me a few weeks back, expressing his happiness that I was able to make it to Fuqua, and that’s how this conversation started.
I am not very active on social media, but when Sameer told me that my journey might help other prospective students out there just like myself, I could not say no to him.
Tips to break into Wall Street
Breaking into Wall Street is tough. For an international student, it is even tougher. But if you keep grinding, keep putting in required efforts, things do work out.
Most importantly, you need to have a solid Plan B.
In fact, I would call it Plan A2 since both IB and Plan A2 need to be executed simultaneously.
Making mistakes is inevitable, but keep hustling, learn from your mistakes, be yourself, have a positive attitude. It goes a long way.
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